nearly empty citi bike rack

By Carol Tannenhauser

You’ve probably seen the empty Citi Bike “docking stations” between West 59th street and West 86th street and wondered, “Where have all the bicycles gone?”

Gone to commuters (mostly) every one.

If you thought Citi Bikes were for tourists on weekend jaunts around Central Park, consider this:

“The system gets more usage on weekdays than on weekends, and if we look at trips by hour of the day, we can see that weekday riders primarily use Citi Bikes to commute to and from work, with peak hours from 8–9 AM and 5–7 PM,” wrote software engineer Todd Schneider, who examined usage data put out by Motivate, the company that owns Citi Bike.

But what happens from 9 to 5? Kay Sheehan, a retired occupational therapist, shared her experience – and frustration:

“I live near West 72nd street and CPW and have been using Citi Bikes since October 2015, just after docking stations moved into my neighborhood. I’m a serious user. My ‘statistics’ on the Citi Bike website reflect 317 trips and 402 miles since I became a member. For me, the bikes have replaced the subway and bus. I use them for errands, getting quickly to the East Side, going to events at City Center, Broadway theaters and Lincoln Center. I also volunteer for a variety of projects located all over the city through “NY Cares,” including taking Duncan, my cairn terrier, who is also a senior citizen, to do pet therapy visits at Mt. Sinai West – another reason why Citi Bikes are so welcome.

“I noticed a significant problem with availability on the UWS beginning in December and it continues to be a challenge as the bikes become more popular. Obviously waves of bikes head to midtown in the a.m. as people commute to work. That leaves no availability for those who would like to use the bikes for trips during the day. Lately I’m facing one empty docking station after another. I’m delighted that Citi Bike is an option for me, but I’m also angered that it is aggressively promoting new memberships when present members are not being served.”

Dani Simons, spokesperson for the Citi Bike program, acknowledged that “rebalancing is a constant challenge for bike-share programs.”

Rebalancing means that Citi Bike uses a combination of trucks, vans, and ‘trikes’ with trailers to move bikes from stations that tend to fill up, to stations that tend to empty out. This enables more trips to be taken, but as quickly as bikes are stocked, customers take them out and ride them away.
“This year we’ve devoted more resources than ever before to rebalancing,” Simons said.

In March 2016, Citi Bike rebalanced 38,006 bicycles, averaging 1,226 bicycles moved each day. The total number of bikes in the Citi Bike fleet was 6,142. The total number of active docking stations was 429.

Schneider’s report, however, indicates that fewer bikes are being rebalanced, at least on a percentage basis. “From July 2013 through March 2015, around 13% of bikes were somehow transported from their drop-off stations to different stations before being ridden again. Since April 2015, though, that rate has decreased to about 4%.” Motivate declined to comment.

Why not add more bikes?

Simons referred us to the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT), which determines where Citi Bike stations go, for an answer.

DOT did not respond to our inquiry, nor to the question: Why not add more docking stations, especially on the UWS? Stations on the UWS are currently placed less densely – further apart – than those below 59th street. (See for yourself on the Citi Bike station map here.) This matters because, according to a study for the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), “station density is a key factor in whether a bike-share system will flourish or flop. In its analysis of bike-share systems across the U.S., NACTO found that stations that are close to other stations see more use [and] the accessibility of bike stations — and, crucially, accessibility by walking — is a primary determinant of their usefulness.”

Citi Bike “is trying to spread out bike-share stations too thinly, which threatens to impede the quality of bike-share service in the expansion zone, making it less reliable,” wrote Ben Fried, editor-in-chief of Streetsblog.

That means headaches for some commuters.

Joe Gall, a Citi Bike commuter who lives on the Upper West Side, said the density does seem too low, and can leave people feeling stuck “if you leave home too late in the morning or work in the evening.”

Attorney Craig Gold said “I think the best photo for this article may be one looking south down Columbus Avenue at the empty bike rack at W 72nd St, as that best sums up my experience most mornings!”

# # #

Other interesting Citi Bike Facts

How Citibank got its name on the bikes:

“Citi’s original six-year contribution as the title sponsor will total $41 million, while MasterCard signed on for $6.5 million. Neither receive revenue from the system, but benefit from having their corporate logos on all 6,000 bikes, 332 docking stations and thousands of key fobs used by annual members. Citi recently renewed its sponsorship through 2024 to the tune of $110 million. The bank became the name sponsor after then-Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan reached out to Citi Vice President Ed Skyler, a former deputy mayor under Michael Bloomberg. — Crain’s

The vast majority of Citi Bike rides are taken by men.

“77.7 percent of member rides [in 2015] were taken by a man. The disparity between male and female usage grows to an 80:20 ratio, as women tend to ride Citi Bikes less in inclement weather. – NYU Rudin Center for Transportation

Safety Records Continue to Surprise, or, No One Killed Yet!

2013 –

“…after more than five months and five million trips, none of the program’s riders have been killed on the bikes. About two dozen injuries, most of them minor, have been reported.” — The New York Times

2014 –

“Against all odds – including novice riders, refusal to wear bike helmets and the daily crush of weaving, horn-blaring traffic – not a single rider in New York City’s bike share program has been killed since it launched in May 2013, a Citi Bike representative said.”   — Reuters

2015 –

“Still No Deaths on Citi Bike, 2.5 Years In. Bike sharing’s extraordinary safety streak shows how well the project has fit the city.” — Observer

Photo by Craig Gold.

NEWS | 64 comments | permalink
    1. JG says:

      There’s plenty of docking stations for the densely populated Upper West Side. They’ll just have to transfer more bikes up from downtown during the day.
      Between construction/workers, churches, schools, movie shoots, where else can car owners park other than the street? For the rich, there are parking garages, for the middle/low income we depend on finding street parking.
      I also own a bike and love biking, so the bike always comes home with me. Perhaps if there were some cheap public bike garages, more people would buy bikes and have a safe place to park it.

      • Jim says:

        There are not nearly enough docking stations on the UWS. Compare the density of stations up here against lower Manhattan and Brooklyn.

        As for not having enough street parking spaces for car owners, the streets are for everyone and your car takes up much more room than a few bikes so learn to share, pay for a garage or sell your car.

        • jin says:

          Jim, a lot of people on UWS could not ride bikes; they are either too old or too young for that sports. When you force them to use bikes you will see more dire situation about empty bike docks and a probably increase of annual fees.
          Jim, give people choice and let people diversify. To be honest with you bikes really suck in the winter.

          • Laura C says:

            I ride my bike all year round – it works just fine in winter. Bundle up – you’ll be fine.

      • Jacob says:

        I would love it if there was a garage to park my bike at. Otherwise, I’m hauling it up four flights of stairs and it’s sitting around my living room year round (old building, walls too weak to hold a bike). It’s really a first world problem and all, but wish there was a way to just have it locked up on the street at least during the summer (and summer-ish) months.

      • Kindly Dr Dave says:

        Many of the commercial garages offer a bike storage option. The bad news is that the rates I’ve seen on the UWS have ranged up from $85 per month (plus the 19% tax).

      • Tyson White says:

        There are fewer bikes per sq mile on the UWS than in Midtown where space constraints are more tight. They simply need to add docking stations.

    2. BN says:

      Also have found no Citi Bikes available on most days after the morning rush hour at any of the docking stations near me on 79th /Bdwy. Have written many times to Citi Bike complaining and suggesting that they transport bikes from mid-town back to UWS in the mornings (which will also help mid-town which has the opposite problem of few to no spaces to dock bikes in the mornings). Only get canned responses with no plan to improve the situation. I for one might not renew my membership when the time comes if the availability does not improve.

      • Nathan says:

        They’ve started a program where they crowdsource rebalancing. If you take a bike to an empty station or away from a full station you’ll earn membership extensions. Basically, if you’ve got nothing better to do, you can rebalance bikes.

        • anon says:

          That would be a win for them because they’ll count it as even more rides when in fact it is rebalancing and not saving fossil fuel or subway rides. In fact, it may contribute to more public transport rides if the rebalancers hop on a bus to get home.

    3. RED says:

      NYPD must enforce traffic rules to protect pedestrians, especially on W. 79, Amsterdam Ave/Columbus Avenue corridors. Too many tourists and messengers riding bikes on sidewalks, against traffic and lights. It’s gotten very bad again and the bike lane on Amsterdam is already causing traffic build up with cabs and cars blocking the box @79th and/or going through red lights. Someone will get killed soon I fear

    4. RED says:

      The combination of tourists riding on sidewalks, bikers ignoring lights and driving against traffic and the new Amsterdam bike lane causing many situations dangerous to pedestrians. Much more running of red lights and no traffic enforcement whatsoever by NYPD.

      • Zulu says:

        You’re so right RED, bicycles are the real threat to society. Large amounts of money should be employed curtailing the actions of these crazed bikers. In the mean time, let’s look the other way and ignore the real cause of harm to our citizenship: https://www.westsiderag.com/2016/05/18/suv-ran-light-before-starting-chain-reaction-crash-on-cpw-report

        While everybody here is losing their proverbial “sh!t” about citiBike there is an innocent woman in the hospital that had to be pulled from under a cab that got rammed from an SUV speeding down CPW.

        • lynn says:

          I agree Zulu. Cars running red lights seems like a bigger issue that affects everyone. It’s depressing that this is happening on a regular basis; 2 women with babies in strollers were mowed down by SUVs yesterday, not to mention the people who were severely injured by the cab jumping the sidewalk in the neighborhood last week. I honestly don’t know what it takes to get the precinct(s) to enforce the traffic laws.

    5. TN says:

      Why not add larger citibilke stations inside Central Park, where unsightly maintenance equipment is stored now?

      • Nathan says:

        They’ve specifically avoided putting stations in areas that aren’t open and accessible 24/7. The park closes at 1 am.

    6. nicetry says:

      Bike shares a great and everything… but if you’re going to and from work everyday… why would you not just buy a Bike?

      • Paul says:

        Not everyone has a safe place to store a bike at home and/or at work. Not everyone wants to ride both to work and back home again, for some one way is as much as they can handle. Too bad to think that fossil fuels are used to get riderless bikes back uptown though, kind of kills the environmental buzz of the biking idea.

      • Joe says:

        That’s the beauty of bike share and what makes it a valuable addition to the city’s transportation network. There is always a bike where you need it, when you need it. If you can only take it one way, fine. If you are running between meetings, no problem. If you want to take the subway or bus, but need a last mile solution to get you where you’re going, perfect solution.

      • Nathan says:

        I own a bike but use CitiBike for commotion occasionally. The difference is really convenience. If i bike to work I have the option to take the subway home without worrying about leaving my bike. I also don’t have to haul it up and down the stairs in my walkup nor do I have keep inflate the tires regularly.

    7. Martin says:

      They’re a waste, ugly, and obstruct the street. Corporate advertising under the banner of “healthy transportation alternatives” has to be one of the biggest jokes played on New Yorkers. Don’t buy into it! A lot of you have already sold out.

      • ScooterStan says:

        Re: “Corporate advertising under the banner of “healthy transportation alternatives” has to be one of the biggest jokes played on New Yorkers. … A lot of you have already sold out.”

        OKAY, time to fess-up! Which ones of youse has “sold-out” to corporate advertising? Come out wit’ yer hands up before we hafta come in after youse!

        Wot an OUTRAGE! A corporate name out where innocent people can see it! GASP!!

        Quick, call Bernie!

        Meanwhile, cover the chillun’s eyes !!

      • Tyson White says:

        I’ve already bought into it, lol, and loving it. Do corporate ads on buses, telephone boothes, billboards, and all kinds of vehicles bother you as much?

    8. EJ says:

      It’s 1:06 AM, and I just checked availability of bikes at 72nd & Columbus. It says 19 available bikes and 48 empty bike docks. (Note that they list out of order bikes as available, so the true number of available bikes is actually less.)

      The problem is not that there are so many morning commuters taking the bikes. The problem is that they are not rebalancing them overnight.

      • EJ says:

        1:12 AM:
        There are 5 bike stations on Broadway between 53rd Street and 63rd Street, with a total of 219 bike docks. Guess how many of these currently have bikes available. Answer: 0.

        So the problem is not:
        a) not enough bike stations
        b) too many morning commuters

        The problem is that the program is being run incompetently!

        • dannyboy says:

          I figured that was the case nas soon as I read: “Dani Simons, spokesperson for the Citi Bike program, acknowledged that ‘rebalancing is a constant challenge for bike-share programs.’” and “’This year we’ve devoted more resources than ever before to rebalancing,’ Simons said.”

          The spokesperson obfuscates.

    9. Jason says:

      How about you go to work during the day instead of tooling around town on a bike? I know this is the upper west side and that’s a crazy thought. But just an idea.

      • Zulu says:

        I guess in your world only the 9 to 5 crowd gets a pass from you huh?

        What about retired folks, why can’t they “tool around town”? What about people that work and have to go to meetings in different parts of the city. What about folks that work from home and have to run errands during the day? What about just about any body that paid a membership and wants to use the bike because they simply want to?

        • Jason says:

          What about the folks who sit double parked in their car 2 times a week for 90 minutes because, like the person quoted in the article, they too have nothing to do.

      • dannyboy says:

        “Get a job!” is your answer to everything? I haven’t heard that since the 60’s.

    10. lisa says:

      Citibike is quite popular with tourists.

      Per various articles in Crain’s and elsewhere, former Bloomberg aid Ed Skyler was very active in developing the Citibike deal to help “improve” Citibank’s image following the 2008 financial crisis. Have wondered what philanthropic donations Citibank ended (other causes/organizations) when it moved to support Citibikes? Ultimately we all “pay” for Citibank’s support either in the taxes Citibank avoids or higher fees it charges customers or the causes it no longer supports because it shifted resources to Citibike.

      On a related note, any news of efforts to restore the M104 route, eastbound on 42nd Street, which was cut in 2010?

      • anonymous says:

        The M42 goes east (and west!) on 42nd St. Keep the 104 as is instead of subjecting it to delays/clumping by sending it down one of the more traffic-clogged streets in the city.

        • No patience says:

          To anonymous:obviously you don’t ride this route and have no clue. The point is to get directly to grand central without taking a second bus and having to stand with luggage etc on 42nd among the tourists and Elmos waiting.
          Don’t comment on issues you know nothing about…it’s ignorant.

      • Cjberk says:

        Yay Lisa!! We’ve been trying to get the 104 route back since it was cut. I am a person who needs to get to grand central sometimes with luggage…I once spoke to gale brewer but nothing has happened. It makes no sense that this bus ends on 7th ave. A driver told me the decisions are made in Albany. What can we do about this???

      • Lyri Clark says:

        I’m with you Lisa! We need the 104 restored. What can we do? Gale brewer knows..everyone knows.

        • Jay says:

          I don’t know why extending the bus to Grand Central would make sense.

          What makes sense is for you to get on the subway and change at Times Sq to the 7 or Shuttle. That way you don’t have to wait in traffic for 45 minutes and instead you get to your Grand Central in 20 minutes.

      • lisa says:

        Followup to my original comment….

        Apparently, the Bloomberg Administration had conversations with the MTA about eliminating the 42nd Street portion of the M104 route. The concern was that the eastbound turn would interfere with the planned Times Square pedestrian plaza. Also, concern about not enough room on 42nd westbound for both M104 and M42 bus stops which were to be moved to west of Times Square due to the pedestrian plaza plan.
        Actually West Side southbound buses M104 and M7 were negatively impacted by the installation of the Times Square pedestrian plaza (and other plazas) and the concomitant traffic re-design.
        Tourists were given priority over actual NY residents 🙁

        (Worth noting that the reduction of bus service results in loss of ridership – it is a self-fulfilling prophecy.)

        More recent residential development west of Times Square is adding to transportation stress both bus and subway.

        Jay – The M104 bus ran along 42nd Street for decades (my older relatives confirm this) – it was only modified in 2009.

    11. Katefromtheblock says:

      I buy a new unsightly bike every year to leave locked outside my apartment. Due to a disability I can not physically bring it up 4 flights of stairs. This was a banner year. It was stolen in 10 days. I will thank the mayor for that. In the past I used toget all or the majority of the season out of it. Why don’t I join Citi? It is too expensive and unreliable. Better to buy a $20 bike annually at garage sales in the burbs.

      • Mark says:

        Any time someone mentions the mayor that says it all for me. Your bike would have just as easily been taken three years ago, but you wanted to take your shot at De Blasio. We get it, you don’t like black kids in your neighborhood or seeing homeless people so you use a bike thread to take a shot at the mayor. You aren’t slick.

    12. Joseph Amiel says:

      If bikes are not available, those streets should be returned to parking.

      • Zulu says:

        Right! Also, if cars are not moved except to be double parked on the other side of the street during alternate side parking those spots should be turned into citiBike stations.

      • Cody says:

        Car should be banned or heavily taxed in this city unless: you ACTUALLY need it for work or you are disabled. Period. Cars in NYC are the worst, and entirely unneeded.

    13. Joe says:

      Thank you to West Side Rag for this well researched and valuable reporting. I was interested to find that commuters make up the bulk of UWS users of the Citi Bike system. I use it every day for my own commute and I’m surrounded by a sea of other Citi Bike riders on the Columbus bike lane and the Hudson River Greenway.

      Citi Bike is clearly a victim of its own success. Their bikes are now my primary means of transportation. I save a fortune, and subway riders are much more likely to get a seat on a train or bus during peak hours. But the system is so popular that more stations are clearly needed, and spaced more closely together. Citi Bike needs to also keep working to redistribute during peak hours. Hopefully some of the pressures will be relieved by the expansion northward coming this summer. And hopefully DOT and Citi Bike will learn from these lessons with their station sizes and locations as they move forward with the next phases of their expansion.

      • Joe says:

        Also, one key fact is missing from the article. The 84th and Broadway docking station has “valet service” during the evening rush. All this means is that there are unlimited docking stations for drop off of bicycles during those hours. This is accomplished by having Citi Bike staff the location and stockpile bicycles when the quantity exceeds capacity.

        While this solution is not as good as having adequate quantity and station spacing, it is an easy quick fix. Citi Bike should consider adding this service in the mornings until they can come closer to meeting demand.

        • Eddie says:

          Since they are clearly aware that, per your example, 84 and Broadway has a lot of returned bikes during the evening rush, in addition to having the valets there (which is a good start) shouldn’t they have frequent service there of the transport vehicles that take bikes to stations where there are not enough (likely in midtown during the evening rush)? I assume they are using data to deploy their resources, and this would be a way to further do so – once they have more usage trend data, they should use it to continually optimize their operations.

    14. Big Earl says:

      Walking around the UWS day after day I see more celebrity sightings than bikes at their stations. It’s a complete joke. The stations are always empty or have just one bike – probably the one that sucks and is half broken. Much like the Citi Bike program.

    15. Adam Fisher says:

      I use citibike occasionally to commute to from the UWS to midtown east M-F and have had no issues getting a bike either at 72 and Columbus or 72 and CPW. I was pleased to see the bikes make it to the UWS last year.

      The bike network has pretty sophisticated technology, if the issue is that bikes are not available for the post work commuting crowd perhaps they can lock down a small percentage of bikes so they are ready for the post 9am rush-hour audience (the racks are full from the evening prior – all the UWS commuters coming home). Replenishment is just one option among many ways to fairly balance the availability of bikes.

    16. josh says:

      The problem is one of staffing and resources. CitiBike earns the bulk of its revenues through subscription, but has to keep the price low enough to maintain membership. It therefore does not have the revenue adequate the properly staff and outfit the bike redistribution.

    17. Bill says:

      We need many a lot bike racks. Many times I have wanted to use the bike but the docks are empty. Send a letter to DOT telling them we want more bike stations. I will do the same.

    18. anon says:

      C’mon Zulu, this is an article about Citibikes. The comments are going to be about Citibikes. Nobody is saying SUVs should run red lights and hit pedestrians. All of us including cyclists and drivers are pedestrians at times. It goes without saying that we want pedestrians to be safe.

      • Zulu says:

        Baloney! I’m replying to RED’s comment about traffic enforcement. He questions why isn’t the NYPD enforcing laws on bicyclists.
        The point I’m making is that it’s a non issue compared to motorist scofflaws which by far cause more harm than any citiBike could ever cause.
        But of course drivers get a pass from everybody in this city, even the victims.

    19. John says:

      If you buy your own bike this is not an issue

      • Zulu says:

        That’s 100% true.

        However, upon ownership you will find out that there are a different set of issues to be dealt with like the risk of theft, storage limitations and maintenance.

    20. MJK says:

      I am not sure if people remember the NIMBY arguments with the stations were first proposed. Everyone was up in arms about to many stations. Now we are all complaining about to few.

    21. S. Hayes says:

      Thank you for the comments, they are a mirror to the soul(s) of the UWS. Sometimes, not always, they do appear like a Shouts & Murmurs section – that is, written by humor writers pretending to be responding to this actual story. In this bike case, the comments, taken in total, sound like a Woody Allen punch line; “Oh the food here is TERRIBLE…and such small portions…” First, epic bike hate, now too few bikes!?
      I love NY!!!

    22. jeff Berger says:

      Does anyone know if a study has been done as to how many cars there are on the UWS? What is the main use of the cars? How many are used for work/commuting?

    23. R. Williams says:

      I don’t live in UWS but just came across this article. I’m a Citibike commuter and I’m frustrated daily by the empty docks east of NY Penn. I hardly ever get a bike in the am. Just for s&g I checked the map east of Penn and the docks were empty at 6:45am but the same docks are full in the evening. Something is wrong when there are no bikes around a major transit hub. Basically I feel your pain UWS. Tweet pic of empty docks to @citibikenyc like I have hopefully we’ll get positive change. #citibike #nocitibikes

    24. KB says:

      I’ve definitely noticed the shortage of bikes on the UWS and in Midtown East (during the evening rush Hour) where I commute to.

      There does seem to be a lack of bikes available. Maybe they are on the road but just looking at the map, it seems most docks run about a quarter full or less.

      I did get an email that they were repairing a bunch of the newer bikes and a lot were taken out of service.

    25. S. Louie says:

      They could employ people who need the money to move bikes from spot to spot based on the data.

      When a bike rack is full…and another rack needs bikes..they could do an Uber like app for users who want a credit. They accept the job and then get paid a few bucks after job is complete…or a credit. I think there are a log of unemployed people that would take that job!!!!

    26. Chris Everett says:

      Where are the stations north of 84th street? I live in the 90s and have been waiting for a couple of years now for the station that was supposed to be on my block. Part of the empty docking station problem in the lower 80s may be that the stations also have to serve the upper 80s and into the 90s.